When Winter Comes by V A Shannon | Book Review #DonnerParty (@vashannon01)

Published by Kensington Publishing
Ebook and paperback (30 October 2018)
304 pages
Source: Review copy received from the author

About the Book

In the voice of an unforgettable heroine, V.A. Shannon explores one of the most harrowing episodes in pioneer history—the ill-fated journey of the Donner Party—in a mesmerizing novel of resilience and survival.

Mrs. Jacob Klein has a husband, children, and a warm and comfortable home in California. No one—not even her family—knows how she came to be out West thirteen years ago. Jacob, a kind and patient man, has promised not to ask. But if she were to tell her story, she would recount a tale of tragedy, mishaps, and unthinkable choices—yet also sacrifice, courage, and a powerful, unexpected love . . .

1846: On the outskirts of Cincinnati, wagons gather by the hundreds, readying to head
west to California. Among the throng is a fifteen-year-old girl eager to escape her abusive family. With just a few stolen dollars to her name, she enlists as helpmate to a married couple with a young daughter. Their group stays optimistic in the face of the journey’s hazards and delays. Then comes a decision that she is powerless to prevent: Instead of following the wagon train’s established route, the Donner Party will take a shortcut over the Sierras, aiming to clear the mountains before the first snows descend.

In the years since that infamous winter, other survivors have sold their accounts for notoriety and money, lurid tales often filled with half-truths or blatant, gory lies. Now, Mrs. Klein must decide whether to keep those bitter memories secret, or risk destroying the life she has endured so much to build . . .

My Thoughts

When Winter Comes is a fictional story inspired by the true historical events of the Donner Party in the 1800s.

Our narrator throughout the journey remains nameless. We only know her as a 15 year old girl, running away from a poor abusive family who joins a wagon trail heading west from Cincinnati to California to find land and settle for a better life. She finds a young couple willing to take her with their wagon, to be there as a helper to them and their young daughter and full of optimism and hope, the travellers set off. At some stage, in their haste to beat other wagons to California and not to be last to arrive with all the best land gone, the wagon trail splits with one half taking the originally agreed and safer route and the other, a more riskier but supposedly quicker route through the passes. Our narrator and her companions end up in the second party. Not the best decision they made!

Told in two timelines, our narrator as a married woman is Mrs Jacob Klein. As she writes her journal, thirteen years after that ill-fated venture we find out the details of that journey.  Who her travelling companions were, how they lived and fought for survival. Mrs Klein has never told her story, not even to her husband, but tired of the never ending lies and misrepresentations which still abound, she decides the time has come to write the story as she experienced it.

When Winter Comes is a harrowing and at times heartbreaking story of immense suffering.  The author writes beautifully and no detail has been spared about the danger and the hardships they faced.  There are so many characters who do not come out of this tale well and many lives were lost because of their ignorance and ruthlessness.  When facing desperate situations, some people showed their true characters with kindness and compassion nowhere in sight.

Everything about the book was so vividly described including the landscape and the characterisations – our young narrator initially seemed rather entitled and selfish; she resented doing tasks to earn her keep but as the journey progressed she matured and I was in awe of her strength of character in such testing circumstances. There are many characters, both adult and children and it wasn’t easy to keep track of the familial relationships however in the overall picture, this wasn’t really important and it certainly didn’t affect my reading of the story in any way.

As well as learning about the past, we learn a little of Mrs Klein herself and how the experience has affected her.  Now married to a carpenter with a young family, she seems to have a settled and comfortable life albeit not one of riches, but there is no doubt that the experience has left its scars.

Despite being totally engrossed in the story, there were times when I had to put it down, especially when the hopelessness of their situation got too much. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were examples of resilience and strength of character and at times, even hope and happiness.

When Winter Comes is a compelling and emotive read that shows the strength of human endurance.  I very much enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

My thanks to Vivienne Shannon for the paperback copy to review.

About the Author

V.A. Shannon trained originally as an artist, in the United States, and then requalified as a lawyer in the UK, but her first love has always been writing. In 2011, she was lucky enough to be accepted on the prestigious Faber Academy novel-writing course where she embarked on the first draft of the novel that was ultimately to become When Winter Comes. She subsequently left the security of full-time paid employment to concentrate on her writing, supporting herself by taking on a variety of temporary and part-time roles, including working in the cloakroom at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, selling Titanic memorabilia, and cleaning houses! She has two beautiful daughters and a gorgeous granddaughter, and lives in Welwyn Garden City, just north of London.

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2 thoughts on “When Winter Comes by V A Shannon | Book Review #DonnerParty (@vashannon01)”

  • Thanks so much for a wonderful review! I am so glad you enjoyed my novel. It is really important for a writer to know that their readers are enjoying their work – writing a novel is a long and arduous process and can be an isolating and lonely one as well, so getting such positive feedback makes it all worthwhile! Vivienne

I do love to read any comments 😊

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